Alphadawg New Reader
3/10/14 11:14 a.m.

Finally bought my first Miata and hope to get it to the local autocross soon. I have to take the novice course first. It is a 15 year old original car and badly needs new suspension parts. I want to stay in the stock class so no coilovers. What is a good set up that is not too pricey? I also see bushing kits. Is that something a newbie can do himself? I am hoping it is simple - I am still learning

Keith Tanner
Keith Tanner MegaDork
3/10/14 11:16 a.m.

You might appreciate these two books:

How To Build a High Performance Mazda Miata

Mazda Miata Performance Projects

The former will teach you what you want to know about the car, the latter will tell you how to do jobs like change the bushings.

The best budget shock for stock class is the Koni Sport. If you do the bushings, use rubber.

kylini Reader
3/10/14 11:43 a.m.

Welcome to GRM and the joy that is Miata! I went through what you're doing now a few years back and here's a few completely random tidbits which may or may not be helpful.

Koni Sports (or yellows) and tires are pretty much the only thing you need to have a blast in your car. I'm a big fan of the "long-bolt" method to install the shocks, which basically means removing the upper control arm bolt and using a jack to gently unload the suspension while you swing it down and out. No matter what you might think, you can never have too much PB Blaster and fire when doing this job. You want spring compressors and you want new bump stops (and other rubber bits) ready to go. I wouldn't worry about bushings unless there's severe slop, but this would be the time to install them (in which case, screw the long-bolt method; you're disassembling it completely!).

After you've gone to a few events using whatever you've got, think about tires. For SCCA street class (the new stock), pretty much the best bang for your buck is the Dunlop ZII. They'll last you a year's worth of racing and road trips and are well-suited for a crisp driving style. As a bonus, they're one of the best 200TW rain tires!

Regarding the front sway bar, it's a nice part to upgrade (especially AFTER a few events so you feel the difference) but if you do, get reinforcement blocks to prevent your stock bracket from breaking. It's a pain in the butt to replace and if you're an idiot like me, you'll get stuck on the 5 bolts you broke off in your frame rail and wonder how to get rid of spot welds. These support blocks are drastically cheaper and easier to install than the Mazdaspeed/AWR replacement bracket. Don't let this happen to you!

For brakes, don't get HP+ pads all around. Stock Miatas put too much bias up front. Cheapies in the front, HP+ in the rear is great and mostly lockup free without ABS. Advance Auto sells caliper hardware kits for $10 if you're missing springs and miscellaneous doodads.

Don't get a rollbar unless you're going to track the car. Safety is a slippery slope and before you know it, you'll need a harness bar too (unless you got a Hard Dog like a smart person), racing seats, harnesses, and a Hans device. At that point, you're in STR or STS, so you might as well get wider wheels, new tires again, a custom exhaust, some weird engine management that's legalish depending on who reads the rules, and you're broke now why are you still reading this. A foamectomy is not a substitute for a racing seat.

Don't bother buying replacement OEM floor mats (assuming you need replacement, that is). Just get the rubber ones Moss or whoever online sells. They're much nicer, don't mess with the clutch, and won't leave you feeling sad when it rains at your autocross and they're out of your car getting drenched.

Get new NGK spark plug wires once every 2 years or so. Mobil 1 0W30 is good stuff. A Mazda Millenia oil filter fits on our cars and is longer, which helps you contort and remove the darn thing. If you have a NA, you want lots of Nyan-cat decals and a vanity plate that says POPTART.

That sums it up...

bluebarchetta New Reader
3/10/14 1:02 p.m.

Good-Win Racing has a package deal you might be interested in:

+1 on Keith's books, too. "Performance Projects" has helped me replace my shocks, install a new top, replace the fuel filter, advance my timing, and stop a nasty oil leak by replacing my CAS O-ring.

kazoospec Dork
3/10/14 1:22 p.m.

In reply to kylini: Pretty good "beginner's guide". Just one quick add, after the shocks, get a decent performance alignment. The "factory spec" alignment most places are going to want to do leave a lot on the table, so find a place that will do an alignment to numbers you provide. There's several floating around out there. Unless its an autocross only car, you'll probably want one labeled as a autocross (or race)/street set up. I used this one from Flyin Miata:

The biggest thing is don't wait until you have everything done before you start racing. If you're brand new, it will be quite a while before the car is holding you back. Get as much seat time as possible, even if you have to spend your "upgrade money" on entry fees. Improvements to the driver will drop way more time at an autocross than any parts you can add.

JohnyHachi6 Dork
3/10/14 1:28 p.m.

One thing that will make a huge difference and is cheap and easy is a competition-oriented alignment. This is probably best to do after you replace any worn bushings. Find a good shop and have them dial in as much camber as they can get, and if you're feeling adventurous, dial in a little toe out up front. You can even ask the alignment guys to mark one tie rod at zero toe and, say 1/16" toe out, then you can set it back to zero to conserve your tires when you're not racing (that's an easy job that takes just a couple minutes and two wrenches).

I'd say tires and alignment are the two biggest things for stock class, followed by shocks. I'd do them in that order too, unless you think you'll need to pull any of the lower suspension arms to install the shocks (usually you can avoid that).

I wouldn't worry about sway bars until after a few events (or even a full season) when you've really learned to drive well with what you have and are sure what your limitation is. I'd put everything else (cat-back, air filter, brake pads, etc) after that.

The biggest thing to remember is do what you enjoy - this should be fun. Also, remember that nothing makes you faster than more seat time, especially when you're starting out. So focus on that, rather than trying to build the fastest autocross miata (that's not a realistic goal and won't matter anyway unless you have some crazy skill to back it up).

JohnyHachi6 Dork
3/10/14 1:29 p.m.

In reply to kazoospec:

Bwhaha, beat me to it.

JohnRW1621 UltimaDork
3/10/14 5:00 p.m.

First, Welcome to GRM!
Second, I will dig deeper into one sentence you wrote:

Alphadawg wrote: I have to take the novice course first.

You have not given your location but I am not familiar with any SCCA Regions that require a novice course.
By the word "course" I am suspecting you are meaning "educational instruction."
I have seen regions that offer an optional (and highly recommended) instruction often referred to a "school."

By the word "course", I am wondering if you have confused it with the word "class."
In autocross (officially as Solo 2 by the SCCA) the cars are broken down into classes. These classes are categories or divisions in the groups that try to improve the competition and level the playing field. As an example, a Miata is in a different class than a Corvette given that they have different power to weight ratios.
In addition to these different classes, there is also a Novice Class. This too tries to improve the competition and level the playing field separating the more experienced drivers from the newer drivers.
In many regions, you are are automatically in this Novice Class for your first year. This novice class provides a second level of competition where you can score yourself against the other new drivers. Sort of a race to see who is improving the fastest.

So, repeating myself... is this a novice course or a novice class you have to take first?

I have not seen a region that requires educational instruction before you can participate. It is possible that it does exist and I am just not familiar with it.
However, this does not mean that gaining some knowledge before you arrive is not a great thing, so...

Please take some time to read this SCCA Solo 2 Novice Handbook
You should find it helpful in covering what to expect from the day.
You may also be surprised to know that some people who wrote this handbook are frequent visitors to this GRM forum.

As mentioned by others above, seat time and improvements to yourself have the greatest payoff. You want some real knowledge then follow this link to Video Training: Autocrossing with Dick Turner

Autocrossing Novice of 1993 in a '90 Miata

Keith Tanner
Keith Tanner MegaDork
3/10/14 6:13 p.m.

Not every autocross is subject to SCCA rules. In fact, I've never actually run in an SCCA sanctioned event and I ran my first set of cones in 1993 as well. It's not unknown for clubs to require a ground school/class/course for first-timers, even if it's just to understand how the heck it all works.

LainfordExpress HalfDork
3/10/14 9:25 p.m.

I think Atlanta SCCA has a "Novice Program" that is a lot different than anything else I've encountered. It seems pretty cool, though they don't have a novice season championship like the clubs up north. I always thought that was kinda neat, a pax only class for novices.

Anyways, from what I know about the Atlanta SCCA novice program, they can do it for their first three events, get instruction, extra runs, but their times aren't recorded or posted. After that, then go into the normal classes.

kylini Reader
3/10/14 9:30 p.m.

On the subject of what else to do: TALK TO PEOPLE AT YOUR FIRST EVENT! We're friendly, I swear. Broken in the head, but very very nice!

Alphadawg New Reader
3/11/14 12:43 p.m.

Yes, I meant Novice school/instruction/program. I have been to 2 races already - just without a car. I did talk to as many folks as I could and got to ride in some pretty cool cars as well. I bought a car this weekend and will hopefully be picking it up in the next week. As soon as that happens, I plan to start driving with my SCCA region and as many other autocross clubs as possible. I just knew the 15 year old car needed some work before it was ready for anything like what I saw at the courses so far! I bought Keith's Performance Projects book and plan to start with the basics like plugs, oil etc. I will get new shocks and probably new tires as well.

This is a great resource. Thanks!

wrongwheeldrive Reader
3/11/14 1:27 p.m.

Here's what I would do, in order of importance.

1) Maintenance items. Replace anything worn. rubber bushings, tired wheel bearings, end links, fluids, timing belt + water pump if it hasn't been done, brake pads + rotors, etc

2) good tires. Z2, rival, RS3, or something similar.

3)shocks. Look no further than koni yellows, or maybe some bilstein sports.

4) RB front sway bar.

foxtrapper PowerDork
3/11/14 2:05 p.m.

As a novice autocrosser, a stock Miata is probably more car than your driving skills are. The thing slowing you down the most is you. Hone yourself, the car comes later.

Running in the stock class helps you reasonably accurately compare times. When your times are consistently around the best of your class for a like car, then it's time to seriously consider improving the car.

If you're determined to buy something for the car, buy a good set of tires.

gofastbobby Reader
3/11/14 2:08 p.m.
kazoospec wrote: The biggest thing is don't wait until you have everything done before you start racing. If you're brand new, it will be quite a while before the car is holding you back. Get as much seat time as possible, even if you have to spend your "upgrade money" on entry fees. Improvements to the driver will drop way more time at an autocross than any parts you can add.


I have had great fun in one of the saddest looking and performing mustangs out there. Every time I go to an event I have two goals:

  1. not last place.
  2. make it home.

The driver mod is much more important than any modification you can make to your car.

DaleCarter New Reader
4/23/21 7:39 p.m.

In reply to foxtrapper :

This is the best advice a beginner can receive and i wish I had gotten it back in 2011. Learn to drive a slow car quickly.

The first money spent should be getting the car back to it's baseline. Bushings, fluids, brake pads, etc. I think the BEST solution is to buy a street class car from an old guy who has sorted the car well.

Then on safety. A GOOD helmet. If you are going to track the car, a proper roll bar and HANS-type device, possibly arm restraints depending on event rules.

Then on coaching. My favorite saying is "Upgrade the software before the hardware", The software is your brain. No amount of hardware will may you quicker than good instruction.

After two seasons of that, you will understand where to spend your hard earned money.

The most important advice? Have fun and volunteer to do extra work for the organizing club.

Vajingo HalfDork
4/23/21 9:47 p.m.

In reply to DaleCarter :

Lmfao. Bro this thread is internet ancient. Half the people that have posted here aren't even around anymore. 

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